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Sydney Morning Herald
22 November 2003
The Singapore High Court has refused leave for an Australian barrister to defend a Melbourne salesman facing the death penalty on a heroin trafficking charge.
The court dismissed an application for temporary admission to the Singapore bar by Melbourne QC Lex Lasry.
Mr Lasry was seeking to join a team of Singaporean defence lawyers in next week’s trial of Nguyen Tuong Van, 23, who was arrested at Changi Airport last December allegedly carrying 396.2 grams of heroin.
Under Singaporean law – the toughest in South-East Asia – hanging is the mandatory penalty for anyone convicted of carrying more than 15 grams.
The case is shaping as a test of the close relationship between Singapore and Australia because of Singapore’s uncompromising policies on drug crime and Australia’s opposition to the death penalty. Singapore has hanged several foreigners in recent years despite pleas for clemency from their governments.
The refusal of leave for Mr Lasry is seen as further weakening the already slim prospects of saving the life of Nguyen, arrested while in transit to Australia.
The High Court was told on Thursday that Mr Lasry intended to present important arguments that the mandatory nature of the death penalty was in breach of Singapore’s constitution. The defence argued the issues of law were of “sufficient difficulty and complexity” to require a foreign barrister with special expertise.
But Justice Choo Han Teck accepted objections by state counsel and representatives of the Singapore Law Society that the case did not warrant the special permission. The Law Society argued that the case was purely factual and evidential and “really nothing special”.
The trial has been delayed several months after a leading Singaporean criminal barrister engaged to defend Nguyen died.